Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sharqiyyah Part II: Wadi Shab

A wadi is a sort of valley with pools of water running throughout it. Some are very river-like, but Wadi Shab was fairly broken up into pools separated by a few steps of rock. The group hiked about an hour until we were fairly close to the end of the valley. The climb was steep, difficult, and beautiful. A wrong step at almost any time would have resulted in a pretty serious fall, so everyone was watching out for each other, helping people get up/off rocks, etc. It was an exhausting hike, and we were all ready for a swim by the end (especially in the 75-80 degree weather).

Once we finally stopped and decided to swim, we went deeper and deeper into the canyon until we reached what seemed like a rock wall. It was actually where two giant rocks came as close to touching as possible without actually touching. We had been told you could get through and that there was a waterfall on the other side you could climb up and jump off, but you just had to get through, first. Single file, we slowly swam between the cliffs, and if I had a really fat head, I couldn’t have done it – it was that narrow. Even though I knew we could get through, I definitely got a bit antsy/claustrophobic (especially since I was the first one through).

Once we all got in, though, it was amazing – a small hidden cave, maybe 30-50 feet across with a waterfall coming down on one side. It was virtually a private room that could only be accessed by swimming through the cliffs and even though sunlight poured in, it was most likely invisible from all other angles. Lucky for those of us that made it through (it was not the whole group), somebody brought their waterproof camera, and we have some pictures that do some justice to the place. Without her camera, there would be no proof that people can swan-dive off a waterfall without selling Old Spice Body Wash. (Pictures soon!)

I’ve never swam in water like that of the wadi. It was completely still (no current or waves); crystal clear or a beautiful blue; and had an almost schizophrenic way of changing depths – one step you’re up to your knees, the next to your ankles, the third to your neck. And though the water was as still and warm as a bath, one had to be able to swim to go where we did. The 50-60 yards (approx) before reaching the passage through the cliffs were opaque and deep, as was the passage itself, and inside the cave. It was an extremely easy swim, however, because of the lack of currents/waves.

The hike back didn’t seem to take as long, since we knew what we were doing, but it was a bit harder than on the way in. (What’s that they say about running only half the distance you think you really can because you have to run back?) My wet-feet/lack-of-socks combo didn’t help anything, either.

All is well, though! I spent the weekend camping in the mountains with a cousin and some other family members, which was unlike any camping experience I’ve ever had, aside from tents and campfire. A very wonderful time with equally wonderful people, though. Sadly, my sunburn-free experience is over. I officially went 29 days in the Middle East without getting sunburn, which may be an Irishmen’s record. The mountains of Jebel Akhdar had other plans, though.

We’ve got our Arabic midterm this week, then we’re off to the interior, Nizwa, for 5 days, living with students at the University of Nizwa. My friend and I went with our Arabic professor to get fitted for our own custom dishdashas and koumbas, because the interior of the country is more conservative than Muscat. (Our professor went to the University of Nizwa and said we’d fit in better there if we were wearing them.)

Pictures on the way!

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